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Make the Most of Local Tomatoes

Make the Most of Local Tomatoes
June 2008
Tasty new spins on tomato-inspired dishes

Is there anything more evocative of the Southern summer than the esteemed local tomato? Few can deny the pleasure of the succulent fruit plucked from the vine, still warm from the sun and eaten right there in the garden. Whether you envision rosy slices tucked under rounds of mozzarella; jewel-toned red, yellow, purple, and orange tomatoes chopped in a spicy salsa; or thick rounds piled on grilled burgers, these treasures are the keystone of Lowcountry supper tables. Perhaps because tomatoes are one of the most stubborn agricultural products, they are also one of the most prized—the tomato refuses to bend to our will, and thus a well-grown tomato rich with flavor remains emblematic of its season like few other fruits or vegetables. Wadmalaw Island, along with Johns Island, makes up some of the Lowcountry’s most fertile stretches of farmland. All manner of produce is grown there, from squash to collards to herbs, but when the weather starts to warm and summer approaches, it’s the tomato that has locals fired up. The rich soils of these two barrier islands collectively produce more tomatoes than anywhere else in the country and yield a number of different varieties. Everything from tried-and-true slicers and heirlooms to the newer kinds favor the Lowcountry land and our accommodating climate. So, what constitutes a good tomato? It’s heavy in the hand, has a pungent aroma, yields willingly beneath a sharp blade, boasts shiny skin, and has flesh that’s both sweet and acidic. As for finding them, these tomatoes are grown in local soil, ripened on the vine, eaten soon after picking, and never refrigerated. Indeed, there’s no small number of Southerners who celebrate the tomato’s flavor and its intense pleasures, and who refuse to accept the mealy, anemic, commercial counterfeits. So it’s safe to say that this fruit’s future here is certainly sealed, and our tables will long be laden with local tomatoes.

<p>Preheat oven to 400ºF. Spread cornbread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about eight minutes or until dry and lightly golden, tossing once halfway through. Set aside to cool.</p> <p>Meanwhile, whisk the vinegars, garlic, and olive oil together in a small bowl, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.</p> <p>Combine the tomatoes, vegetables, and mozzarella in a large serving bowl.